From a young age, Anaïs Lellouche always knew that she wanted to work in the arts. “I liked to spend time strolling by myself in museums, so it came quite naturally. The museum has always been kind of a friend and an inspiration.”
Lellouche recently founded the cultural organisation BIEN VU, a colloquial expression in French meaning “well-regarded” or “well-spotted”, which gathers curators from around the world to share resources and knowledge about international art.
Headquartered in Melbourne’s inner city Collingwood, the organisation also involves curators in the US, Canada, Hong Kong, Germany, and other cultural hubs around the world. “Our mandate is to develop international art in Australia to all, from public and private collections, through to schools.”
BIEN VU uses a three-chapter mandate: to be independent, self-funded and autonomous; to help collectors to develop their knowledge of international art; and to reach out to the public through exhibits, events and other public art endeavours.
“I always grew up thinking the world was a big place to explore,” says Lellouche, whose mother is American and father is French. Early in her career, she dabbled in various departments of the art world – auction houses in Paris and New York, galleries, working for artists, even considering becoming an artist herself. She then began to advise her artist friends on ways to show and establish their work, and found a passion for curatorial work.
Lellouche has since curated and worked on major arts exhibitions and events in Paris, New York and now Melbourne. Previous projects include the Les Miserables – From Page to Stage Victor Hugo exhibition, White Night Melbourne, Nuit Blanche Paris and the Centre Pompidou.
BIEN VU’s model is inspired in part by an organisation in Istanbul called Spot, an educational platform for collectors that offers art history courses to Turkish collectors. The organisation also encourages them to donate to fund contemporary art as a way to support artists.
“I love how Australia is really interested in international culture,” says Lellouche. “Australia is a very multicultural place… [and] although there are lots of fantastic programs that include a lot of international art, I think collectors are still quite homogeneous, and quite strongly anchored to Australian art. I think… collectors are [now] starting to show interest toward international art.”
Lellouche found herself in Melbourne through a residency at Gertrude Contemporary as an adviser. “I found the people are so warm, and there’s so much culture here. It’s also a smaller town, so it’s easier to build alliances and start contributing to the scene. People have been so nice and accepting here, it felt like home. I think that Australia is the land of opportunity, kind of like the new America, where not everything has been done yet and there’s a lot of goodwill.”
According to Lellouche, one of the obstacles in establishing BIEN VU was to set the organisation apart from other curators and advisory talents in Australia. “It’s important to make sure that people understand how you’re different and how you can contribute,” she says. One of the ways BIEN VU differs from other similar organisations is through its social impact, and the way the organisation redistributes a portion of its profit towards funding public art and social impact projects. “We want to offer clients ideas to support cultural philanthropy.”
Another challenge is learning how to negotiate when others tell her “no”. She gives an example from last year’s Les Miserables: From Page to Stage, in which the French government and library had at first been reluctant to let her borrow the original Victor Hugo manuscript for the exhibit. But after a conversation with the President of the library, she learned how to listen to what would make them reconsider. “When you have obstacles, see if you can change them into opportunities,” she says. “I think that in life, I really believe that you can make anything happen if you have resilience and resourcefulness.”
Lellouche can’t say much about the upcoming events BIEN VU is organising, but some involve “working with a social history project which allows for people to record meaningful interviews to be donated to the State Library for an archive”, and “a discursive exhibition, like a narrative around a theme that shows art from around the world, modern and contemporary”.
Lellouche hopes that BIEN VU becomes “an iconic and global benchmark for a new model in the arts which combines curatorial, advisory and educational programs”.
“Melbourne has all this energy with things popping up all the time. There are always things going on, it’s a really exciting place to be. Australia is still a place where big dreams can happen. I think it’s a country where people back bold initiatives, and that’s certainly what we’re doing.”